Dene singer Leela Gilday wins SOCAN Her Music Award

The singer-songwriter says she was blown away when she won the award, which hundreds of musicians vied for.

The northern icon says the music industry is becoming more open to diversity

Juno-winning singer-songwriter Leela Gilday now has another award to add to her collection: a SOCAN Her Music Award. (Shawna McLeod photo)

Juno award-winning singer-songwriter Leela Gilday remembers when she got started in the music industry, festival lineups would be almost entirely comprised of white men. 

"There's been a significant shift," she said to host Lawrence Nayally on CBC's Trail's End this week"[But] if you look on stage, if you look behind the board, if you look at the music industry, it is skewed more towards men."

Earlier this month, Gilday received the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) Foundation Her Music Award. Gilday said when she got the award, she was "blown away," adding that the award is a great opportunity to lift up women in the industry.

"We are out there. We are already making great music," said Gilday.

"I thought it was a really beautiful thing to have somebody from the music industry really see that we're still so far behind even some of the other creative industries in gender representation."  

Gilday was one of two winners of the $5,000 awards sponsored by music licensing non-profit Re:Sound, at a packed reception in downtown Toronto. The other winner was hip-hop artist Haviah Mighty. According to a February press release, the winning artists were chosen for their career potential, musical work, and the expected impact of the award on their development. 

Leela Gilday celebrates her SOCAN Her Music Award with her son Brandon, left, and husband Darrel. (Submitted by Leela Gilday)

"The Her Music Awards are designed to celebrate and support female-identified people building momentum, as music creators on the verge of taking their creative careers to the next level," said Charlie Wall-Andrews, executive director of SOCAN Foundation, in the press release. 

Gilday's national recognition comes after years as an icon for other Indigenous artists and northerners. Northern Indigenous people have been making music for generations.

But when Gilday was growing up, she didn't often see that creative spirit reflected in her media — she rarely saw artists that looked like her, sounded like her, or had similar messages.

"There was one. It was Buffy Sainte-Marie and she was the only one," she said. 

Years later, when Gilday got to play at APTN's Aboriginal Day events, she looked down from the stage.

"And all across the front of the stage there [are] about 10 little girls, Dene girls ... just looking up at me just having a moment of realization like, 'Wow she looks like me and and she can do this, then I can ... do that too,'" she said.

"Opening those kind of doors is really powerful."

Written by Katie Toth, based on an interview with Lawrence Nayally produced by Joanne Stassen